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Hazel Saffery (left) and Kelly Osaka, partners at Dentons' Calgary office, are key members of the firm’s global network of environmental transformation experts.David Chidley

Environmental transformation is rarely a simple process.

For companies looking to reduce their environmental impact and accelerate their sustainability goals, it can be challenging to juggle multiple priorities and embrace new opportunities while navigating ever-changing government regulations.

To successfully tackle transformation, companies need expertise from the best. Hazel Saffery, Dina Awad and Kelly Osaka are three leading-edge legal minds from global law firm Dentons who are at the forefront of environmental, social and governance (ESG) transformation.

Bolstered by a team of experts around the world, these three women are helping Canadian companies traverse the path to a greener future, while optimizing market opportunities along the way.

As Ms. Saffery says, “If we can help a client get to where they want to be, that’s our goal.”

Solving the ESG puzzle

Ms. Saffery, a partner with Dentons’ Calgary-based energy group, says it’s important for clients to look at the big picture when it comes to sustainability transformation. And that means understanding that the path to a greener future is about embracing different ways of doing things.

Fortunately, she says her clients in energy, power distribution and oil and gas are aligned with exploring new technologies to transform their operations.

“There is a willingness to jump on innovation,” Ms. Saffery says. “People want to see better production, they want to see greener, more efficient activities, so if someone can show them the tech, people are excited to implement it.”

Tapping into her undergraduate training in biology along with her legal expertise, Ms. Saffery supports clients in understanding science, regulations and risk. She helps clients find ways to produce their own clean energy and sign power purchase agreements with green energy producers. She knows how to work with carbon offsets and carbon sequestering and is tracking the rise of green hydrogen.

She notes that for companies looking for a path to net zero, it’s not a one-way path.

“More likely, it’s a combination of strategies,” she says. And while ESG transformation can be complex, Ms. Saffery says she thrives off solving the ESG puzzle.

“I’m a bit of a geek,” she says. “I love learning, and for me it’s about figuring things out to help clients put the pieces of the puzzle together.”

Toronto-based partner and ESG advisor Dina Awad says the Dentons team understands the importance of community: “The network of people we can draw upon is a key to our success.”Lucy Lu/Lucy Lu

Leveraging a community of experts

Working with Dentons Canada means getting insights not just from one well-versed lawyer, but a network of experts on the leading edge of environmental transformation. That global presence is a key part of understanding the legal and financial implications of any move.

“We understand the importance of community,” says Dina Awad, a partner in the Toronto litigation and dispute resolution group and the firm’s regulatory group. “The network of people we can draw upon is a key to our success. Not all firms can do that – reach out with a question about another country and get an answer in 24 hours. We are able to track and build our understanding of legal developments globally with subject matter experts on the ground.”

In an area of law as fast-changing as this one, keeping up with the latest developments is crucial. In addition to utilizing each other’s knowledge, lawyers at Dentons refer their clients to the firm’s rich online resources. That includes the ESG: Global Solutions Hub, which tracks ESG best practices and legislative developments globally and Ms. Awad says is a vital resource.

Regulatory changes and litigation in other countries will inevitably have an impact on Canadian companies. Both because they influence the rules here, plus many companies have a global footprint. Ms. Awad notes that there is an expansion of laws and enforcement activities aimed at curbing noncompliance with ESG standards across the U.S., Canada, U.K. and the European Union.

“Companies can’t wait for litigation or regulatory enforcement to appear on their doorstep. They have to get ahead of the curve by testing their compliance with ESG norms across their operations,” says Ms. Awad.

A competition bureau settlement regarding false or misleading recyclability claims against a coffee pod company means greenwashing in advertising is increasingly a risky endeavour. The same company was subject to a class action settlement in California and is facing parallel litigation in Canada for the same issues. Ms. Awad notes that these issues cross borders. For example, Germany has cutting-edge laws around mandatory human rights due diligence that could impact Canadian companies.

Ms. Awad says businesses increasingly need to pay attention to their supply chains, their non-Canadian operations and their marketing messages to stay compliant with written laws and social norms here and also abroad.

Keeping a global perspective

Calgary-based partner Kelly Osaka, co-lead of Dentons’ litigation and dispute resolution group, also keeps her eye on environment-related cases across industries and markets.

“It’s energy companies that have ESG at the forefront of their minds; they’ve been hit the hardest. But it should be on the radar of all my clients,” she says. “The risk is real.”

Knowledge can be power, Ms. Osaka notes. If clients can understand what kinds of litigation is happening across the country and around the world, they can take a larger view of their own operations, she says. That might just prevent a lawsuit, or help clients fare better if they are challenged.

“You have the opportunity to show the court all the steps you’ve taken to lower your carbon footprint or improve your governance, in order to show you’re on top of these issues,” Ms. Osaka says.

To stay well-versed on the latest international developments, Ms. Osaka tracks a wide range of legal proceedings that may have relevance for Dentons clients, including those where municipalities are suing companies over environmental damage to their towns. She writes about precedent-setting cases for Dentons’ blogs, including an entry on recent changes in climate change litigation and disclosure requirements in Canada and elsewhere.

Like her colleagues Ms. Saffery and Ms. Awad, Ms. Osaka takes advantage of the vast Dentons network of knowledge and experience when a client needs more information than she personally can provide.

“I just pick up the phone and call one of my team members in Calgary or Toronto or in one of our overseas offices,” she says. “That’s the advantage of being at Dentons – our team is truly global.”


Advertising feature produced by Globe Content Studio with Dentons. The Globe’s editorial department was not involved.